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Riffing On the Tradition: The Bucket's Got a Hole In It

This week in Brussels, Belgium, the temperature has been hovering around the low to mid-20s and a light but steady snow this weekend has made for slushy streets. So, since I’ve essentially been hotel-bound this week, leaving only for my concerts, I’ve been reading, organizing my year and catching up on news.

One particular newsworthy local item that came to my attention is a new service that allows our listeners and fans to use technology to tip their favorite artists. It’s a virtual “bucket” called “Digital Tip Jar” and, in my opinion, may be one of the more important things to come out of all the Super Bowl planning.

See, several web applications, including Digital Tip Jar, were born at a recent competition among local software programmers to create an improved technology-based “user experience” for Super Bowl visitors. Another winner in the contest will provide information about where live music shows are happening. But the exciting thing is that, long after the firework smoke and roadwork dust clears, these web apps, barely one week old, will continue to shape the ways people engage our city’s culture.

“Digital Tip Jar” was created by a small team that includes Patrick Crilly, the brains behind “Live Music NOLA.” Recognizing the increasing trend of using smartphones and tablets to make  purchases, DTJ also corroborates the findings of “UX For Good” about our music community’s chllenges, based on the creators' Jazz Fest 2012 visit. Quite simply, the app generates a QR code for bands and muscians who register on the website. Fans who scan the code (the example above is that created for the author if this column) are taken to DTJ’s page and can tip using Paypal, leave a message and even receive rewards for their support.

However, as much as I appreciate the potential here, philosophically, I still wish tipping wasn’t the zeitgeist of economic stability for culture workers today. It’s fine to make it easier for people to do what they are already doing. That’s the agnostic empathy prevalent in “user-experience” efforts that seeks to leverage low-hanging fruit. In this case, tourists who use technology. But, I’d like everyone to remain a bit dissatisfied and stay mindful of factors that promote tipping as a substitute for an actual living wage instead of a supplement.

For example, it should bother us that music venues in New Orleans pay more to be permitted to charge for their entertainment. It should be disconcerting that in this system, presenters are alleviated from investing in promoting or paying the musicians they hire. I’m not sure how I feel about having the added expense and burden of creatively displaying or distributing the QR code in a dignified way. And, maybe the use of the PayPal app is more prevalent than I think, but I really don’t know if I want us targeting only a tech-savvy audience.

We’ll see. Who knows, maybe I’ll be less disgruntled when my e-bucket starts to fill up with imaginary loot. Ha! (... made myself laugh.)

Anyway, it will only take you a few minutes. Sign up ... but don’t let your guard down.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for his holiday performance schedule. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]